Snap uses AR to reveal black history in Trafalgar Square

The partnership with Black Cultural Archives wants to expose people to black history.

Snap: a statue of Nelson Mandela will be on display near the Fourth Plint
Snap: a statue of Nelson Mandela will be on display near the Fourth Plint

Snap has partnered with the Black Cultural Archives to unveil hidden stories of black British and black people in the UK through augmented reality.

Launched by Nelson Mandela's granddaughter, Tukwini Mandela, "The Hidden Black Stories" project turns Trafalgar Square into an immersive history lesson. Snapchatters can learn the stories of black British history that live behind monuments in London location.

The campaign was inspired by research conducted by Snap, the Black Cultural Archives and Research Without Borders that found on average, less than a third of Brits (32%) recognise famous historical black figures, about half the level of those that recognise similarly important famous white figures (63%).

Lisa Anderson, managing director (interim), Black Cultural Archives said: "We are thrilled to be working with Snapchat on such an important initiative. Black Cultural Archives exists to collect, preserve and champion the histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain, so the opportunity to recognise these stories through cutting edge AR technology that reaches younger audiences is both exciting and powerful.

"British History is full of incredible black people and hidden stories that deserve to be told. This Trafalgar square lens is a dynamic, virtual sign of recognition, the second in a series through which Snapchatters will be able to learn about people they may not have heard of or know very little about."

The location and stories shared in AR have been selected by a panel of experts from Slavery Remembrance, Black History Walks, Nubian Jak Trust, Mary Seacole Trust and 100 Great Black Britons, and include:

  • Four black British artists will have their digital artwork hung on the National Gallery. The work will be displayed alongside a curatorial note giving more detail about their work.
  • A boxing ring has been created to represent Bill Richmond and Tom Molineaux, two black boxers who lived in the 1700-1800s. The gym that Bill Richmond trained out of, stood in Trafalgar Square, near Nelson's Column and was demolished around the time the monument was erected. Molineaux, an American, was his protégé.
  • A black sailor said to be George Ryan depicted on Nelson's Column will be highlighted, in recognition of the integral and unsung role black sailors played in Nelson's victory at Trafalgar.
  • Near the Fourth Plinth, a statue of Nelson Mandela will be on display marking his Make Poverty History speech, that took place in 2005 in Trafalgar Square. The speech can be heard when viewing the Lens.

The AR experience will be permanent and has been timed to coincide with the release of Mandela from Robben Island 32 years ago. It is aimed to encourage ongoing education and attention on black British history and not just restrict it to one month a year in October

For those unable to travel to London, Snap has also launched a national lens that brings Nelson Madela's statue to life in front of you, wherever you are.

The Landmarker Lens will also bring a sculpture of Mary Seacole that is located in Lambeth to life, bringing colour to the globe behind. Despite her being voted the greatest black Briton in 2004, her statue saw a lot of opposition and only after campaigning for 12 years was it finally erected in 2016.

Ed Couchman, UK general manager at Snap Inc. said: "Events over the last few years have ignited a global conversation about racial equity. In the UK, there was a particular focus on how race is represented in British History: how it is taught in schools and how it is celebrated in statues or landmarks up and down the country.

"There has been a lot of debate - sometimes quite heated - that the less positive historical context is missing from celebratory plaques or statues. And that many key black British historic figures and stories are completely non-existent."